Rape has been everywhere in the news lately. It’s hard to escape it. At first I really wanted to. Then as more stories kept coming it seemed time to pay attention. Last week I wrote about sexual assault becoming a greater issue on college campuses and prevention programs that should be put in place. I can’t help but think those same programs would make some small impact on the number of rape cases in the country.
What is more disturbing to me than the number of stories popping up constantly is how the media and law enforcement are responding to it. We’ve all seen the stories in the New York Times blaming the woman (in some cases girl) for her behavior or the way she was dressed, a despicable take on a painful topic that must be discussed. But that was certainly not the way to do it. I’ve been having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that some people do not see rape as rape.
That is nothing to how law enforcement sees it. The FBI’s definition of rape does not include forced anal or oral sex, rape with an object, statutory rape and male rape. This changes the statistics on rape. According to the FBI’s definition, what happen to Lara Logan in Cairo is not considered rape. Horrifying. Appalling.
Many local law enforcement agencies have varying definitions of rape, and often do not include victims under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Clearly not an issue in New York where a police officer is accused of raping a woman he and his partner were called to pick drunk and drive her home. While it is still early in the trail the accusations are serious. We have to be able to trust police officers, and this does nothing to make women feel safe, whether the accusations are true or not.
The latest cases to come to light involve Peace Corps volunteers being raped in their assigned location and receiving little to no support from Peace Corp staff, on location or in Washington. One victim was told: “I am so sick of you girls going over there, drinking, dancing and partying, and then if a guy comes on to you, you say you were raped”. As she shared in testimony to Congress Wednesday the Peace Corp country director told her it was her word against his and they believed him.
Rape is not something that is easy for victims to talk about. Sharing that it happened and reporting it take a lot of courage, as does confronting the perpetrator in court. Part of the problem is the stigma still associated with rape and assault. Another part of the problem is the assumption the woman is somehow at fault. Trust me – I’ve listened to friends try to sort out after the fact how they could have prevented it, and go through a period of thinking it was their fault when it absolutely was not. How dare we put that on them!
The challenge is that it isn’t just a select group – it is a wide swath of people around the world that need to be told, convinced even that rape is rape is rape. Sexual assault prevention is just one step in a long road to make change happen. Feminist Majority is working to change the FBI’s definition of rape in their No More Excuses campaign. Find out what you can do change the stigma and the laws.
Originally appeared on Fem2.0